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Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee - 03/07/2015 - Aspects of road safety in Australia

ALLAN, Dr Geoffrey, Chief Operating Officer, National Transport Commission

DAVIES, Mr Paul, Project Director, Reform Maintenance, National Transport Commission

POTTER, Dr Jeffrey, Project Director, Productivity, Safety and Environment, National Transport Commission

[15:59]

CHAIR: Welcome. We do not have a submission but we do welcome the opportunity to put some questions to you. Do you wish to make a brief opening statement? You were mentioned in New South Wales yesterday.

Dr Allan : We have not had a chance to read the transcript—

CHAIR: Whatever I said about you, don't worry about it!

Dr Allan : We would appreciate the opportunity to make a brief opening statement. Firstly, thank you very much for the invitation. From what we have seen today and certainly from reading the submissions, it has been a very informative inquiry to date. I am joined by my two colleagues: Jeff Potter, who is the director responsible for productivity, safety and environment, and Paul Davies, who is responsible for maintaining the national laws and keeping them up to date, and I will talk about those a little bit later on. I would also like to offer the apologies of our chief executive, Paul Retter, who is on annual leave at the moment; he has some pressing family commitments.

Anyway, just to give a little bit of history about the National Transport Commission: it started in the early 1990s and came out of COAG agreements that were around at the time, resulting in a number of intergovernmental agreements, the first one on heavy vehicles in 1991 and then one on light vehicles in 1992. The primary aim at the end of the National Road Transport Commission as it was then was to develop nationally uniform and consistent regulation of road transport. So we are a law-reform-making body, in effect. We do not have responsibility for transport infrastructure; nor do we fund programs—we are certainly not funded for that role. The role of the NRTC was expanded in 2003 to take account of a broader array of land transport issues. So we became the National Transport Commission, doing away with the road component of that.

The role of the NTC is prescribed in the National Transport Commission Act and the Inter-Governmental Agreement for Regulatory and Operational Reform in Road, Rail and Intermodal Transport. Whilst we were established under a federal act, the intergovernmental agreement plays a key part; it clearly indicates that we are responsible to all governments. All governments are parties to COAG, not just the Commonwealth government. So we certainly take our interest in all governments equally seriously.

The act and the intergovernmental agreement outline the purpose of the NTC as having an ongoing responsibility to develop, monitor and maintain nationally consistent regulatory approaches to land transport. We do this in a number of ways. Primarily, we develop the reforms which are changes to model and national laws mostly, and submit them to the federal, state and territory transport ministers for their approval. Again, whilst we develop the laws, we do not decide them and we do not have a role in their adoption, largely.

For the purposes of this committee's terms of reference, the laws that are probably most relevant would be the Heavy Vehicle National Law—and I appreciate that a number of the senators have had a role in heavy vehicles in the past and will probably continue to have a role in heavy vehicles—and the other two major laws are the Australian Road Rules, which previous witnesses spoke about in detail, and the Australian Vehicle Standards Rules. I will just talk briefly about each of those.

The Heavy Vehicle National Law commenced on 10 February last year. There are a number of state governments and territory governments that are party to that—basically, all state and territory governments except for the Northern Territory, and Western Australia.

CHAIR: Yes.

Dr Allan : Yes!

CHAIR: I will continue to throw honky nuts at you!

Dr Allan : Okay! The Australian Road Rules are model laws. They actually have no legislative force on their own and need to be adopted by each of the jurisdictions before they can take effect. The rules have broadly been adopted across all jurisdictions, and our annual report gives an update on where the adoptions are in relation to each of the jurisdictions—and certainly that one got a lot of attention in the last hearing, and Paul Davies can talk a little bit more about the road rules and particularly the cycling issues if you would like to talk about those.

The Australian Vehicle Standards Rules are national vehicle standards for light and heavy vehicles that are already in use. Vehicles must comply with these standards if they are to be driven on public roads. The AVSR support the Australian design rules which govern the design and construction of new vehicles by providing national standards for motor vehicles.

In relation to maintaining laws, the NTC also undertakes a number of projects related to our legislative functions. In doing so we submit an annual work program to the Transport and Infrastructure Council each year. I have copies of that program if you would like those.

Projects or activities get on our work program in a number of ways. Firstly, as I indicated, we have standing obligations to maintain the law, so maintenance of the laws is undertaken in every year, even though updates may not be proposed in every year. We also monitor the implementation of those reforms, which is mandated under the legislation. We also take references on projects to propose reforms, generally from the Transport and Infrastructure Council, and occasionally from individual ministers, such as doing a pricing determination. But we also seek the views of our stakeholders—that is, state and territory governments and people who are involved in transport generally—on what they believe should be on our work program. Once we reach a view on what is most desirable and achievable and meets our terms of reference we develop those into business cases and then seek ministerial approval to put them onto our work program.

As indicated before, if you have any questions we are happy to answer those. Jeff Potter will take most of the questions on safety and Paul Davies will take most of the questions on the maintenance of the nationals rules and model rules.

CHAIR: Thank you. I don't need to remind you want I think of your fatigue management, do I? We don't want it. We have done our own in WA!

Senator GALLACHER: Given that broadly speaking you are developing policy initiatives to improve productivity, safety and environmental performances on Australia's road, rail and intermodal transport systems, where do you sit in the importation standards, given that 85 per cent of Australia's heavy vehicles were imported? Do you have a role in assessing the ADRs and the improving technology in imported trucks?

Mr Davies : The Australian design rules specify importation standards for vehicles. That is a Commonwealth responsibility. The NTC maintains the Australian Vehicle Standards Rules, which are standards for in-service vehicles and for light and heavy vehicles. As well as that, those standards are replicated in the Heavy Vehicle National Law vehicle standard regulations.

Senator GALLACHER: Do you have a role in moving the ADRs closer to the Safer Vehicles.

Mr Davies : No, we do not have a direct role in that.

Senator GALLACHER: What about the evidence we had from Engistics yesterday. Did you catch that by chance?

Dr Allan : We did not catch that and we have not read a transcript.

Senator GALLACHER: 350 rollovers a year.

Dr Allan : We are certainly aware of the submission.

Senator GALLACHER: The standard is that the load must be stable. They are saying that there could be plenty of drivers going around who have not loaded the truck. They have been given an unsafe load and it tips over and the driver gets the sack because the truck fell over and they blamed him. Do you have any role there?

Dr Allan : Yes, we certainly have a role in that. One of the national standards we maintain is the Load Restraint Guide. We are certainly aware of, and have engaged in the past, principals of Engistics to assist us with updating the load restraint guide. If you have a look at the work program, one of the projects that is on our program for the next couple of years is to update that guide.

Senator GALLACHER: The operative point being: the next couple of years. What is the actual length of time from when you establish a program is worthwhile, then you conduct the research and then you get it implemented? Is it in decades?

Dr Allan : The Load Restraint Guide was released in 2004, so it is now 11 years old. We are moving to a process—and we have had some recent changes at the NTC to improve our project and program management capability—to more effectively update and more routinely update our standards. We are moving to do a significant review of the Load Restraint Guide, which is 10 to 11 years old now. We will do a comprehensive review and then be in the best place to update that on an ongoing basis over three years.

Senator GALLACHER: So you can come up with the best practice and then you have to get every state and territory jurisdiction to accept it. Is that the case?

Mr Davies : In the case of the Load Restraint Guide that is not the case. The Load Restraint Guide is called up by the Heavy Vehicle National Law, as gazetted. As that is updated that does not necessarily need to be adopted by each state and territory.

Senator GALLACHER: Do you have to get every state and territory to enforce it?

Mr Davies : Indeed.

Senator GALLACHER: That is not always an easy step.

Mr Davies : Enforcement for heavy vehicles is the responsibility of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator. So, yes, that is obviously a key part of delivering that safety benefit.

Senator GALLACHER: We have taken some evidence that margins are tight, as they always are in transport, and maintenance and/or safety may be under question in a lot of areas. How do you, as the NTC, add value to the process?

How do you make it safer? How do you make sure the person going up and down the Hume Highway in their Honda Getz or Hyundai Getz or whatever it is is safe from a vehicle that might tip over from an incorrect load?

Dr Allan : There are many ways. I might hand over to Jeff Potter to talk about the areas in his responsibility first.

Dr Potter : There are a number, as Geoff just said, of things that we are currently working on. One is the review of heavy vehicle roadworthiness to identify the best practice for maintaining heavy vehicles in roadworthy condition and have that adopted consistently across Australia rather than rely on the historical practices, which are quite different from one jurisdiction to another at present. There are other areas, such as the development of performance based standards for vehicles so that heavy vehicles are assessed on the basis of how they perform on things such as their rollover stability, their ability to track in a straight line and their ability to have acceptable braking distances and corner satisfactorily, rather than just relying on the simple prescriptive physical dimensions. These vehicles are better performing and more dynamically stable and are increasingly moving in to take up more and more of the freight task. Also, as the chair mentioned, we have undertaken work on fatigue regulations, which are also currently under review, to establish the evidence base for any future changes that may be made to it.

CHAIR: Hansard cannot pick that up.

Dr Allan : There are a number of other projects.

CHAIR: We will have a rabbit-proof fence up to stop you mob coming over!

Dr Allan : One of the things that are also on the project and that hope to extend responsibility for safety beyond the operators is a chain of responsibility review that is being conducted. So there are a wide range of projects on our books at the moment, and there are a number of historical projects that are being completed as well.

Senator GALLACHER: We all are familiar with the story about the freight task doubling and the need for B-doubles to get greater access into our major capitals. Are you able to demonstrate that the vehicles are getting safer? They are getting bigger.

Dr Potter : They are certainly getting bigger. We are able to demonstrate that they have better handling and that we have the regulations in place to allow them access to the roads which are suitable for the larger vehicles to access—but not open slather on every road, which may not necessarily be there. There is also evidence—largely generated through the insurance industry, which is much closer to some of the non-injury crashes in particular—on the reduction in the relative involvement in crashes of the larger B-double and larger combination vehicles compared to rigid and semitrailer vehicles. There are improvements in that over the past decade.

Dr Allan : Additionally, one of our staff members was a project manager for an Austroads project that reported last year in relation to performance of those vehicles, which showed that the adoption of those led to better environmental outcomes, better safety outcomes et cetera.

Senator GALLACHER: So your evidence basically is that everything is going along pretty well? There are no outstanding issues or heavy vehicle problems in the sector?

Dr Potter : There are certainly issues that need to be managed, like the work that we were doing on roadworthiness.

Senator GALLACHER: There are around 330 truck related fatalities a year. That is not an issue? That is nearly 30 per cent of the thousand that die.

Dr Potter : That is certainly something which is not an acceptable level of crash involvement. It is also not going to be solved solely by focusing on just the heavy vehicles themselves. Sharing the road with a range of vehicles, from the very large road trains through to bicycles and all sizes in between, really is a challenge to the safety of the road network as a whole. The adoption of the Safe System approach by the National Road Safety Strategy is really aiming at looking at the whole system and the way of improving the safety in interactions. It is certainly the case that, as the freight task is growing and more and more of it is moving by road, we cannot rely on safety to just look after itself on the way through.

One of the projects that we have been undertaking over recent years and have now handed over to other bodies to implement is the development of the National Road Safety Partnership Program, working with the industries that rely on the road network for the transport of customers, raw materials and goods, to use the knowledge and influence that they have over where the risks are in their operations and to share them amongst other companies and other private sector organisations to improve the overall safety of the freight task and the work related transport task that is being undertaken. That was launched just a bit over a year ago, in May last year, involving a number of large and smaller Australian companies. It has been actively developing case studies of how the individual companies' ability to improve their safety performance has not just benefited them in a safety sense but also contributed to productivity improvements and better safety for the communities in which they are working.

CHAIR: We, sadly, have run out of time, but we know how to find you. Just one last question: has the NTC had any involvement in the announcement by Minister Truss around 'Setting the course', which talks about the road freight task doubling by 2020 and putting freight on ships?

Dr Potter : No.

Dr Allan : Not that I can recall.

CHAIR: Tremendous—don't get involved in it; it's a load of crap. Thank you very much, gentlemen. I sincerely thank you for appearing today. We will be back in touch with you.

Dr Allan : Happy to reappear.

CHAIR: We might have to drag you to Canberra. Thank you very much to Hansard and broadcasting—another sterling effort; I do like that word 'sterling'! To our secretariat, Kate and Timmy, thank you. On behalf of the committee, I thank everyone who appeared today. That concludes today's hearing.

Committee adjourned at 16:17